After years of relative scarcity, the Archdiocese of New Orleans opens the academic year with a bumper crop of young men entering seminary studies for the priesthood — the largest group in 26 years.
Thirty-six men have enrolled at either St. Joseph Seminary in Covington for undergraduate training, or Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans for graduate work, leading to ordination during the next eight years.
Last year the number was 27. Before that, 20.
No one in the regional church believes it’s the beginning of the end of the priest shortage that has bled the Catholic church for more than 30 years, or even that a class this size establishes a new norm for the future.
But Archbishop Gregory Aymond and others say they are cautiously optimistic that a series of concrete initiatives to increase the number of New Orleans priests is beginning to bear fruit.
The candidates range in age from 18 to 51. Four will enter St. Joseph Seminary right out of high school, a relative rarity. Others, like Chad Ham, 47, and Chris Zavackis, 42, have left established careers — in law and social work, respectively.
Nationally, the average age of newly ordained priests last year was 31, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. More than 90 percent had full-time jobs before seminary; 60 percent had completed college before entering seminary.
Read more, including how the archdiocese is striving to create a “culture of vocations.”